Whether from common mistakes, outdated electrical systems, or inexperienced DIYers, electrical code violations in your home can be hazardous to you and your family.
Here are some of the most common—and most dangerous—violations.
1. Obsolete wiring
Knob and tube wiring may have been state-of-the-art before the mid-1900s, but it’s dangerous today because the wires aren’t grounded. Also, it can’t handle the load from modern gadgets and appliances, and it’s not considered safe for moist environments (like near a kitchen or bathroom sink). It is so dangerous, in fact, that most insurance companies will not insure buildings with knob and tube wiring.
So, if you live in an older home, what can you do? Hire a licensed electrician to inspect your home. But here’s the bad news. If your house has knob and tube wiring (which has been found in homes built as late as the 1970s), you will need to have the entire house rewired. This is a costly task, but worth it for protecting your family and your home.
2. The wrong type of circuit breaker
What is a circuit breaker, and what does it do? It is a safety device that prevents damage to wiring if an electrical current flowing through a circuit exceeds its capacity.
There are four different main types of circuit breakers.
- AFCI Circuit Breakers: Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters are required in modern homes. Arc faults are hazardous because the electricity can jump, leaving the circuit and traveling into the surrounding area.
- GFCI Circuit Breakers: These Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters are commonly used in rooms that have a lot of moisture, like bathrooms and kitchens. Per electrical code, any part of the home that has running water or is exposed to the elements must have GFCI protection.
- Single-Pole Circuit Breakers: If you open your breaker box, the majority of the circuits that you will see are single-pole. These common circuits are designed to monitor currents, tripping the circuit in the event of a short. Have you ever had the lights go out in your home? These circuits control that lighting.
- Double-Pole Circuit Breakers: Double-pole circuit breakers supply power to appliances like washers and dryers that require higher voltage and amps.
Understanding the different types of circuit breakers, and which type of electrical protection goes where, can protect you from considerable damage to your home. In the best case scenario, the wrong kind of circuit breaker can cause your power to cut out frequently and damage your outlets. In a worst case scenario, it can lead to an electrical fire.
3. An illegal splice
When you connect two or more wires, it’s called a splice. If the splice is not contained inside a junction box, it’s illegal as it can overheat and start generating sparks.
If you’re dealing with spliced wires and the splice is absolutely necessary, contact an electrician to help you mount a junction box that will contain the splice.
4. Limited panel access
Can you access your service panel easily? The National Electrical Code states the clearance surrounding your panel must be at least 30” wide by 3’ deep and 6’6” inches high so that you can open the panel door without obstruction. If you need to perform work on your panel to prevent an emergency and you can’t access it, you’ve got a big problem on your hands.
5. Overcrowded wires
Overcrowded wires can cause friction, which can cause a fire risk. The heat cannot dissipate, and the wire insulation can “bake” or “burn.” A 7/8-inch hole can accommodate no more than three wires. Remember, there should be enough room so the wires can shift.
If you have a crowded wire issue in your home, it is best to have a licensed electrician fix the problem. When too many wires are crammed into a small space, the heat can rev up, wire insulation can melt and a fire can start.
6. Exposure to moisture
Electricity and water don’t mix, so make sure to install a GFCI outlet for wet or moist areas. And if the outlet is outside, make sure to install a bubble cover to shield it from the elements. The National Electric Code requires 15–20-amp receptacles to be weather and tamper-resistant.
For applications like self-regulating heating cable for your gutter or roof, you’ll need an Equipment Protection Device (EPD). It’s sometimes called a GFEP (ground fault equipment protector) and is kind of like a GFCI on steroids. Self-regulating heat cable adjusts its heat output according to the surrounding temperature. This fluctuation will cause a regular GFCI device to trip frequently, but the EPD can differentiate between these fluctuations and an actual short circuit caused by damage to the cable.
7. Too few outlets
The National Electric Code does not allow extension cords in place of permanent wiring, nor should a cord cross a passageway. Often, people will compensate for a lack of receptacles/outlets in their home by rigging a bunch of extension cords, but this is not a safe solution.
Do you have enough outlets? Per the code, the space between outlets cannot exceed 12 feet. These guidelines ensure that no appliance is more than 6 feet away from an outlet.
8. New lights, old wiring
One of the most common errors by DIYers is installing new lights to old wiring. New lighting tends to run at a hotter temperature, which can overload old wiring.
So how do you fix this? If your home’s wiring predates 1987, a splice box and at least 3 feet of new wiring connecting a new light fixture to old wiring will prevent having to rewire the entire circuit.
Here is a tip to tell if your wiring predates 1987: Look for the date on the wiring. Wires manufactured after 1987 are marked with dates, while wires predating 1987 do not have a date.
9. Improper recessed lighting
Recessed lighting looks great in a home. The problem is that when it’s buried up there in the ceiling, it can come into contact with insulation. Heat from lights + combustible material does not have a pretty outcome.
The solution? IC-rated lights, which come equipped with a nesting can type construction—a can within a can. This double-can design creates an air gap that allows the outer can to stay cooler, negating fire risks.
If you have recessed lights that are installed in areas with insulation, ensure that they are IC-rated.
As heat trace cable specialists, we’re very tuned into electrical code violations in homes. We frequently see work by DIYers and even electricians that leads to systems being installed in homes without adequate power or with the wrong types of breakers. If you’re looking to install heat cable, contact us for the proper supplies and the expertise to help you safely set up heat trace cable systems that will keep your roof and gutters safe through icy winters.